By: Abe Kasbo
CEO, Verasoni Worldwide. @akasbo
In his thoughtful and extremely well-researched TechCrunch piece, Samuel Scott argues, correctly, that “everything the tech world says about marketing is wrong.” The article echoes much of what I have asserted since our firm launched one of the first Youtube channels in 2006, and does it with eloquence and grace. A large and very important Scott makes is nothing that marketers have become enamored with buzzwords and are letting tools drive their thinking, rather than evaluating and using these tools as part of a larger business strategy.
As Mr. Scott takes aim at the hype around “content marketing,” he eyes C-suite marketers for “falling in love with technology” rather than keeping their focus on meaningful strategy that drives business. He scoffs at the worlds of “likes,” “traffic,” “content is king,” and “link building,” arguing that the world of technology marketing is largely driven by people who are vested in selling those concepts and technologies to marketers, rather than marketers actually demanding these tools, using them, and deriving real value from them. In his piece, he tells you why and how this happened. This essay is required reading for CEOs and CMOs alike.
For years, we have been advising clients to be judicious in the face of the tidal waves of marketing technologies – inbound, outbound, digital, social, and traditional – that are largely driven by buzzwords and industry hype. Look, we know these technologies are tempting. They promise to make our jobs easier, deliver more sales, give greater brand recognition, and advance the business. Yet, in the face of these promises, marketers seem to have lost their natural skepticism and may be abdicating good business judgement in favor of measuring visits, clicks, likes, and follows. More importantly, marketers somehow have bought into “content” as the savior of their brands and the key driver of business. Of course content is important, but the platform, audience, sales support, sales integration, and timing are just as important. Let’s keep in mind that Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World” is content, the NBA is content, your brochures and sales material are content.
The idea that inbound automation and social media, through content, are going to positively impact sales or your brand is an idea well-peddled, by marketing automation and content providers. There is no credible evidence, anywhere, that suggests its efficacy or reliability. There are singular and distinct cases of questionable success, but nothing reproducible across products and industries. What many people are now calling “campaigns,” seasoned marketers simply call “tools.”
We call them dropping marketing bombs.
The Many Pitfalls of Digital and Content Marketing
“While companies have put their faith in branded content for the past decade, brute empirical evidence is now forcing them to reconsider,” said Douglas Holt in last Month’s Harvard Business Review. Successful digital marketers – TRUE digital marketers – are extremely rare. Today, the only example of these companies are Google and Facebook, who are in the business of delivering audiences (notice I didn’t say digital audiences). Although retailers such as Amazon, Zappos, and Netflix use the internet and other digital tools as ways to market themselves, all of these businesses consistently advertise offline, engage in traditional PR, have sales teams, participate in corporate social responsibility, and continue to invest traditional media, because they know digital promotion is a one-trick pony. These are no small investments, either.
When thinking about digital media and content, the true costs are often overlooked because the promise of marketing efficiency is alluring. Aside from software licenses, enterprises must devote organizational time to hiring, training, and dedicating resources to administering the software. Then, dedicated human resources are assigned to creating and perfecting the content, and perhaps the same team can administer the content distribution responsibilities, ensuring content is distributed across email, social, and internal digital platforms. If the same team cannot do this, even more human resources must be garnered. When we move on to analytics and reporting, even more human resources are needed.
What you effectively need to produce credible, good content is an internal agency environment. The agency will be creative, driven, and focused on your business and brand. They will create campaigns around issues important to your clients, because they take the time to understand the people who use your services. Otherwise, you’re hiring people to produce blogs and videos and post them everywhere, which is anathema to basic marketing principles of integration.
What about opportunity costs?
Let’s build an app! But have we studied the cost per download / adoption? Have we considered who will be working on the content and the end business purpose of the effort?
All Content Is Not Equal
The reason people engage with certain campaigns – “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” for example – is because it’s great content. Not good content, GREAT. Whether I drink Dos Equis or not is almost irrelevant, I will watch the commercials anytime they’re on. But a creative mind had to have the vision to conceive and write the character and story. That takes time (and money, but we already covered that). Time and thoughtfulness drive good content no matter where it is, and regardless of platform. Social media’s nature, and that of the internet as a whole, is to speed up time, thereby putting pressure on agencies and marketing departments to produce “content” fast.
The result, plain and simple, is spam.
The fact is only a handful of brands have moved the needle online, and those results will not be reproducible. Let’s also remember, Dos Equis’ iconic campaign came right in the middle of the social media and “content is king” age.
Social Network Ownership
Facebook’s pivot towards making businesses pay for views presents a serious problem. Before we can talk content, we need address the relevant network. The questions you need to ask yourself are “How relevant or valid is my network? Who is in my social media network? What is their value? How often can I reach them with great content?”
The relevant network issue is directly related to “content.” When Facebook asks business to pony up, they’re implying that businesses must do the hard work of growing their networks but also pay for the privilege to reach them (right now Facebook posts will deliver an organic reach of 2 – 4 % of your network). “It’s only $10 to boost the post…” they constantly say. But boost the post to whom? Twitter presents another set of challenges, including the content limitation of the platform and the unsettling speed at which posts in one’s Twitter feed are buried. But on the bright side, businesses can (hypothetically) reach 100% of their network on Twitter, and the same goes for Instagram.
Natural selection on social media networks is deadly. We subscribe to the idea of not just content curation, but network curation. Natural selection, meaning organic growth your social media network isn’t necessarily a good thing. Ensuring the integrity of your network and audience is your top priority, otherwise your content will be irrelevant, regardless of whether it’s good or bad.
The Dangerous Social Media Obsession
Social media attracts large audiences; that’s a fact. It’s also a compelling reason for businesses of all sizes to take a position in the space. However, businesses are slow to shift their marketing resources in the face of empirical evidence and data. Major retailers across the US and around the world are looking at sales from social media and seeing nothing. That’s right, nothing.
Do you really think your ad, your “content,” is good enough to interrupt my personal timeline and experience on Facebook and Twitter to make me stop and engage in it? Really?
Recently AdWeek said retailers are skeptical about the selling power of social media and even mobile advertising, saying only 1.5% of sales can be attributed to Pinterest and Facebook combined. Even within this article, the author almost can’t help but point to a “ content success story” where a Mercedes campaign attracted “tens of thousands of likes.” The question is who are these people? How old are they? Can they afford a Mercedes? And most importantly, what will Mercedes do with the “likes?”
Let’s get real. Mercedes is a ubiquitous global brand. Does anyone for a single moment think that Mercedes, if it produces even halfway decent ads (content) about its cars (its productions are fantastic to be sure), would not get these likes?
And that’s just retail. What’s happening in the business-to-business world?
The Dysfunction of Marketing Automation
Marketing automation is the land of milk and honey, or at least that’s what marketing automators say. It’s easy. Run a couple of A/B tests and watch your business grow. Read this white paper, coupled with this business case, let them fill out a lead-capture, and watch the qualified leads pour in.
Software licenses, training, and installation are some of the issues. Getting a creative human to run your marketing automation campaigns in a way that makes sense is probably the biggest challenge. There’s nothing automated about marketing automation but the actual software. Someone has to design the frequency and reach of these campaigns, as well as monitor them. Someone has to create great content that drives interest in your products to lead to some form of equity in the campaign. Someone has to conduct the analysis. Sending emails on a given schedule is not marketing – it is marketing automation.
How Should Businesses Should Respond to the Social Enterprise?
Like with a good mutual fund, asset allocation is key. Social media cannot and should not be ignored or downplayed. CEOs and CMOs must decide the value of the audience on social media and the resources relative to their business objectives and dedicate resources based on the overall integrated marketing strategy of the enterprise.
Strategy should drive marketing, and digital and content are just a few tools. The social enterprise, and its content, ought to be an extension of the goals of the business and tied directly to it. Just like advertising, sales, public relations, corporate social responsibility, direct mail, and so on. There ought to zero separation between the goals of the business and the social strategy.
Relevant Network Building Vs. Mass Network Building
Good content is meaningless if the target isn’t receptive and engaged. “I’d rather have four quarters than 100 pennies” is a golden rule here. Focus on quality, not quantity, and ensure influencers are involved with your brand – just like in the offline game. The spirit of the overall brand and the business objective must be infused into your network. Network building isn’t for social media alone; your email database is probably your most underutilized social media tool. Every enterprise ought to have a strategy to drive relevant social media contacts to their email database.
To receive maximum value from your digital platforms. It’s important your network is personally curated by someone who knows the audience, the players, and the market you are after. If you are selling to doctors for example, get the influencers involved, and include them in your campaigns. Knowledge of the industry and asking the right questions, especially in the B2B space, are absolutely critical to ensuring social media communication efficiency.
It’s time for the C-Suite to reexamine its approach to marketing as a global discipline. Reliance on marketing automation, social, and content marketing because of their perceived simplicity is an investment businesses cannot afford to get wrong. Marketing technologies and content marketing must be included in the marketing mix, but judicially and thoughtfully, not relegated to a team to churn content. It’s only when enterprises realign their marketing strategies to look at the digital marketing enterprise through the lens of global integrated campaigns that they will derive real value. Otherwise, we will continue to drop digital marketing bombs and play to the tune of soundbite marketing.